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Ask the Agony Editor: on honest book blurbs

In this month’s readers’ advice column, we discover that you’ve got a friend in Brian Francis … but maybe not a book blurb

Brian-Francis-FinalI’m a midlist Canadian writer. Recently my old friend asked me to read and blurb his debut book. I read it but found it boring and poorly written, and the humour was, frankly, offensive. To make things more complicated, he has helped me in the past by reading my early drafts and hooking me up with an agent friend, so I feel like I owe him. Should I tell him the truth or should I shut my integrity down and pony up a blurb?


To Blurb or Not to Blurb

Dear Blurb,

Publishing is a business of personal relationships, and learning how to navigate those waters can be one of the most important skills you acquire as a writer. Well, aside from writing. While that doesn’t mean blowing air kisses and calling people “dahling,” it does mean that the industry is small. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves drowning in Lake Awkward. And when it comes to awkward, blurbing is right up there with signing a book and forgetting the name of the person who just told you her name. (This explains why most writers have indecipherable handwriting.)

What makes your situation especially squirmy is that the request is coming directly from the writer. Who happens to be your friend. And his book sucks. Given that you have a history with this person and he’s done you favours, I’d be inclined to provide him with a non-committal blurb/non-blurb that you could live with. Here are some possibilities:

“Move over, E.L. James. There’s a new kid town!”

“There’s good. And then there’s this guy right here.”

“A master of meh.”

“Wow. Just … wow.”

Of course, if the book is really offensive and you stand to damage your reputation by association, start back-peddling. Remind your friend that you’re midlist and no one will listen to you anyway. Having said that, the honest approach might actually help his sales. If I came across a book that had “Boring, poorly written, and the humour was, frankly, offensive” on the back cover, I’d probably buy it.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.